Friday, November 9, 2007

Book review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner was an international bestseller that was published in thirty-four countries. Now he has come out with a new novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. It is the story of Mariam and Laila, of war ravaged Afghanistan, of characters that come to life in the minds of the readers.

Hosseini starts with Mariam, an almost ostracized girl from the outskirts of Herat. At the age of fifteen she is married off to a shoemaker almost thirty years older to her. She follows him to far away Kabul. On the night of the consummation of the wedding the husband tells her, “It’s what all married people do.”

If Mariam were to ask, ‘For what?’ the answer might have been, ‘To beget male children’. But questions by women are taboo. The man goes to his room, leaving the girl “to wait out the pain below, to look at the frozen stars in the sky and a cloud that draped the face of the moon like a wedding veil.”

After about a hundred pages the author puts Mariam in suspended animation and moves across the street to Laila, a nine-year-old schoolgirl. The link between the first two parts of the book is a blue Benz car that is once seen before Mariam’s house for a few hours. The thread wears thin as the pages are turned but still holds. Here Hosseini takes the risk of the readers loosing interest, but survives. Then fate brings Laila to Mariam’s abode and the story moves on.

At a few places one finds passive voice and shift from past tense to present tense. But the writer obviously knows the rules and is confident enough to break them with good effect.

Surprisingly there are a couple of discrepancies in the write up on the back cover of the book. Mariam is not “sent to Kabul to marry”. Laila does not “leave her home”. These mistakes could be misleading to potential readers, and should have been avoided.

A Thousand Splendid Suns gives glimpses of the history, culture, and the unbending traditions and practices of the land where the story takes place. It portrays the devastation caused by a prolonged war, sufferings and sacrifices, compassion. And acceptance of fate, like the point where Mariam tells Laila, “For me, it ends here.” Through all these, life, maimed or otherwise, goes on, and love endures.

Good reading.

There is a reading group guide to the book, which you can download at

The author was born at Kabul but shifted to the United States in 1980. He is a goodwill envoy of the U.S. to the United Nations Refugee Agency.


Also see: Book Review: The Other Side of Laurie Baker


Maddy said...

i agree, it is not as well written as kite runner. but once you are in the afghani ambience, it works..i read it just after the kite runner, so it was OK.

kallu said...

I read the book sometime ago. but your review brought it back. The place of women in Afghanistan is clearly brought out. As you say, He's a good storyteller and we get to know a very different culture. So even if the thread is not strong enough, we can overlook that.